“So do I thank thee, Roger,” said Beltane, speaking ever with closed eyes. “Yet I would that God had let me die, Roger.” And behold, from these closed eyes, great tears, slow-oozing and painful, that rolled a-down the pallid cheek, very bright in the fire-glow, and glistening like the fairest gems.
“Master—O master!” cried Roger, “dost grieve thee for Sir Fidelis?”
“Forsooth, I must, Roger—he was a peerless friend, methinks!”
“Aye master, and—noble lady!”
“Roger—O Roger, how learned you this? Speak!”
“Lord, thou hast had visions and talked much within thy sickness. So do I know that thou dost love the Duchess Helen that men do call ’the Beautiful.’ I do know that on thy marriage night thou wert snatched away to shameful prison. I do know that she, because her heart was as great as her love, did follow thee in knightly guise, and thou did most ungently drive her from thee. All this, and much beside, thou didst shout and whisper in thy fever.”
Quoth Beltane, plucking at Roger with feeble hand:
“Roger—O Roger, since this thou knowest—tell me, tell me, can faith and treachery lie thus within one woman’s heart—and of all women— her’s?”
“Master, can white be black? Can day be night? Can heaven be hell—or can truth lie? So, an Sir Fidelis be faithful (and faithful forsooth is he) so is the Duchess Helen faithful—”
“Nay, an she be true—O Roger, an she be true indeed, how think you of the treachery, of—”
“I think here was witchcraft, master, spells, see’st thou, and magic black and damned. As thou wert true to her, so was she true to thee, as true as—aye, as true as I am, and true am I, Saint Cuthbert knoweth that, who hath heard my prayers full oft of late, master.”
“Now God bless thee, Roger—O, God bless thee!” So crying, of a sudden Beltane caught Black Roger’s sun-burned hand and kissed it, and thereafter turned him to the shadows. And, lying thus, Beltane wept, very bitterly yet very silent, until, like a grieving child he had wept himself to forgetfulness and sleep. So slept he, clasped within Roger’s mailed arm. But full oft Black Roger lifted his bronzed right hand—the hand that had felt Beltane’s sudden kiss—and needs must he view it with eyes of wonder, as if it had been indeed some holy thing, what time he kept his midnight vigil beside the fire.
HOW BLACK ROGER PRAYED IN THE DAWN: AND HOW HIS PRAYERS WERE ANSWERED
“Holy Saint Cuthbert, art a very sweet and potent saint, and therefore hast good eyes—which is well; so canst thou see him for thyself, how weak he is and languid, that was a mighty man and lusty. Cherish him, I pray thee! A goodly youth thou dost know him, thou didst see him burn a gibbet, moreover I have told thee—and eke a knight of high degree. Yet doth he lie here direly sick of body.